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In a C++ project, the linking step is performed after the compiler compiles the source code into object files (*.obj). The linker (link.exe) combines the object files into a single executable file.

Linker options can be set inside or outside of Visual Studio. Within Visual Studio, you access linker options by right-clicking on a project node in Solution Explorer and choosing Properties to display the property pages. Choose Linker in the left pane to expand the node and see all the options.

Linker command-line syntax

When you run the linker outside of Visual Studio, you can specify input in one or more ways:

  • On the command line
  • Using command files
  • In environment variables

The linker first processes options specified in the LINK environment variable, followed by options in the order they're specified on the command line and in command files. If an option is repeated with different arguments, the last one processed takes precedence.

Options apply to the entire build; no options can be applied to specific input files.

To run link.exe, use the following command syntax:

link arguments

The arguments include options and filenames and can be specified in any order. Options are processed first, then files. Use one or more spaces or tabs to separate arguments.


You can start this tool only from the Visual Studio command prompt. You can't start it from a system command prompt or from File Explorer.

Command line

On the command line, an option consists of an option specifier, either a dash (-) or a forward slash (/), followed by the name of the option. Option names can't be abbreviated. Some options take an argument, specified after a colon (:). No spaces or tabs are allowed within an option specification, except within a quoted string in the /COMMENT option. Specify numeric arguments in decimal or C-language notation. Option names and their keyword or filename arguments aren't case sensitive, but identifiers as arguments are case sensitive.

To pass a file to the linker, specify the filename on the command line after the link.exe command. You can specify an absolute or relative path with the filename, and you can use wildcards in the filename. If you omit the dot (.) and filename extension, the linker assumes an extension of .obj to find the file. The linker doesn't use filename extensions or the lack of them to make assumptions about the contents of files. It determines the type of file by examining it, and processes it accordingly.

The linker returns zero for success (no errors). Otherwise, it returns the error number that stopped the link. For example, if the linker generates LNK1104, the linker returns 1104. Accordingly, the lowest error number returned on an error by the linker is 1000. A return value of 128 represents a configuration problem with either the operating system or a .config file; the loader didn't load either link.exe or c2.dll.

Linker command files

You can pass command-line arguments to link.exe in the form of a command file. To specify a command file to the linker, use the following syntax:

link @commandfile

The commandfile is the name of a text file. No space or tab is allowed between the at sign (@) and the filename. There's no default extension; you must specify the full filename, including any extension. Wildcards can't be used. You can specify an absolute or relative path with the filename. The linker doesn't use an environment variable to search for the file.

In the command file, arguments are separated by spaces or tabs (as on the command line) and by newline characters.

You can specify all or part of the command line in a command file. You can use more than one command file in a link.exe command. The linker accepts the command-file input as if it was specified in that location on the command line. Command files can't be nested. The linker echoes the contents of command files, unless /NOLOGO is specified.


The following command builds a DLL. It passes the names of object files and libraries in separate command files and uses a third command file for specification of the /EXPORTS option:

link /dll @objlist.txt @liblist.txt @exports.txt

The linker recognizes the following environment variables:

  • LINK and _LINK_, if defined. The linker prepends the options and arguments defined in the LINK environment variable and appends the options and arguments defined in the _LINK_ environment variable to the command line arguments before processing.
  • LIB, if defined. The linker uses the LIB path when it searches for an object, library, or other file specified on the command line or by the /BASE option. It also uses the LIB path to find a .pdb file named in an object. The LIB variable can contain one or more path specifications, separated by semicolons. One path must point to the \lib subdirectory of your Visual C++ installation.
  • PATH, if the tool needs to run CVTRES and can't find the file in the same directory as link.exe itself. (link.exe requires CVTRES to link a .res file.) PATH must point to the \bin subdirectory of your Visual C++ installation.
  • TMP, to specify a directory when linking OMF or .res files.

See also

C/C++ Building Reference
MSVC Linker Options
Module-Definition (.def) Files
Linker Support for Delay-Loaded DLLs